Ewan became the first sprinter to win for a second time this year, after claiming his maiden Tour victory in Toulouse on stage 11. Prior to Tuesday, the sprints had been shared out, with Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma), Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma) all winning once.
In recent history, the Tour de France sprints have tended to be dominated by one rider, and the race hasn’t gone this long without a repeat winner since 2002.
"This year really shows the depth in sprinting we have now," Ewan said in his stage winner’s press conference in Nimes.
"In previous years, we always had maybe a Kittel or a Cavendish, someone who was really dominating and would win four or five stages at the Tour. This year, it doesn’t seem like that. For a sprinter to win at the Tour de France it has to go perfectly. You never see a rider come from 10 back to win.
"It’s exciting for sprinting, because you get to a sprint like today. and you really don’t know who’s going to win. In previous years, Cav was here and you’d know for sure he’d win. It’s really exciting for sprinting and people watching sprinting that it’s all so close."
Although he’s now two-one up on everyone else, Ewan declined to designate himself 'the' sprinter of the 2019 race. However, he does reckon he’s the most consistent, having finished on the podium in all six of the full bunch sprints so far at this Tour.
"If you looked at the results, I’m the most consistent sprinter, but I’m not going to sit here and say I’m the best sprinter of the Tour de France, because any of my opponents on their day can be the quickest," he said.
"To beat them is not easy. At this Tour de France I’ve really had to think a lot about how I can beat them and use my tactics a lot to come round them. That’s been my advantage – the tactics I’ve used."
It was abundantly clear Ewan was using his head from his explanation of his approach to stage 16. With the start and finish just a kilometre away from one another, he took the opportunity for a pre-stage recon, noticing a headwind and a straight final 3km punctuated by roundabouts, the last coming 400 metres from the line.
"When I looked at finish this morning, I knew there were going to be two scenarios. One, I was too far back coming out of that roundabout. Second, I was in a good position," Ewan explained.
It turned out to be the former. His teammate Jasper De Buyst had led for the final kilometre, but Viviani’s lead out came through just before that roundabout and Ewan slipped to seventh position.
"I already played out in in my mind what I’d do in that situation, and I thought to myself, ‘If I'm too far back coming through that roundabout I’m going to back off and start my sprint earlier, run at the wheels and then come past with speed. Luckily I already thought of that because in the end it happened, and in the end my plan worked, so I’m pretty happy with that."
Getting 'a run' at the wheels – hanging back slightly off the rider in front in order to already be at full tilt when stepping out into the wind – has been one of those tactics Ewan mentioned. He said it’s something he’s been working on "since I was probably 10 years old", something he learned from the track, where he was "never strong enough to win outright from the front".
It worked perfectly for him against Groenewegen in Toulouse, although Nimes was something else entirely. He opened the taps from a considerable distance – always a risk in a headwind – the only real slipstream benefit coming when Michael Morkov peeled off Viviani’s QuickStep train.
"I think I caught off guard a lot of sprinters today," Ewan said, although he was maybe doing himself a disservice. The element of surprise was only half the story; such sustained power in a headwind could only come from a sprinter at the top of his game.
And so it was a perfect day for the 25-year-old Australian, whose debut Tour de France – one he’s had to wait for – has been an unmitigated success, whatever happens now. The elation was only enhanced by the presence of his wife and baby daughter in Nimes.
"It’s going to be pretty cool when I can tell her the first ever race she watched me at was the Tour de France, and I won," Ewan said.
And to think he almost didn’t sprint at all. Ewan revealed he was feeling "horrible" and was close to calling his teammates off the front of the peloton, only for them to rally around him and encourage him to give it a go.
"I’m glad I had that environment today," he said. "It gives you extra motivation when your team has so much faith in you to win."
Tuesday was the first time Ewan has reached stage 16 of a Grand Tour, and he faces a fight to finish this Tour de France. After Thursday’s stage to Gap, which features a late climb, there are three brutal days in the Alps, where he’ll be pushing himself to the limit just trying to make the time cut.
If he makes it, he’ll have the chance to sprint on the hallowed Champs Elysees. Win there, and he can surely call himself 'the' sprinter of the 2019 Tour.
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